We've Got History

Our school is named for one of the greatest geniuses of the modern age, Thomas Alva Edison. His inventions touched so much of what we do every day. The light bulb. The movies. The electrical power plant. He was such a great inventor and businessman, his nickname was the Wizard of Menlo Park.

Edison was the youngest of seven children born in Milan, Ohio, then a busy port town.

He did not learn to talk until he was almost 4 years old. When he finally started talking, he never stopped asking every one he met to explain how things worked. He was so inquisitive and eager to learn that he got into trouble at his first and only school, an overcrowded one-room schoolhouse. The teacher considered him "addled" or mentally disabled. Luckly, Edison's mother believed in her son's brilliance and pulled him out of school. She taught him herself.

Edison later said of his mother, "She was the making of me. She was always so true and so sure of me...and always made me feel I had someone to live for and must not disappoint."

Young Thomas had an enormous excitement for learning. Every subject that interested him he tackled with amazing enthusiasm. He developed a passion for the theater. He discovered the library and set off to read every volume in it and nearly did, including the entire dictionary. He loved birds and collected information on more than 5,000 kinds.

He was also ambitious. At age 12 he went to work o work selling newspapers, snacks and candy on the local railroad. At 14 he published his own newspaper for commuters and train passengers, which he filled with articles about his hero, Abraham Lincoln. Alll the while he tinkered with his many science experiments. When his mother complained about all the chemicals in her basement, he set up a mobile laboratory on the train. Until he accidently set the baggage car on fire. The conductor grew so angry he punched the boy on the side of the head, a blow that worsened the hearing loss that the youth already suffered. Later, Edison declined to have his hearing loss treated, saying he llked being cut off from the noisy world so he could think.

One day while he was at the railroad, the stationmaster's 3-year -old son wandered onto the tracks and young Edison leaped to his rescue from a speeding train. The grateful father taught Edison how to run the telegraph machine, then the latest technology in communications. The telegraph allowed messages to be sent hundreds of miles away instantly. Edison became hooked on telegraphs and took off to find his fortune traveling the country making his living as an operator.

When he finally returned home he found his middle-class parents had fallen on hard times, and his proud mother suffering from mental illness and the bank poised to foreclose on his home. He grew up fast and determined to make serious money to save his family. He started inventing for profit, a better telegraph machine. He moved to Boston where great scientific minds were at work. Among his friends were Alexander Graham Bell and Benjamin Breddling, whose breakthroughs in electricity and communication science Edison joined.

A disillusioned and broke Edison borrowed money to try his luck in New York City. One day, wandering around the financial district he was attracted to a crowd gathered around a broken stock ticker machine in a panic. Edison had been secretly sleeping in the basement and had tinkered enough with the machinery to understand how it worked. He was able to get the machine working, and was rewarded with a high-paying job keeping the instruments of high finance humming at the brokerage firm.

Edison made great progress creating successful inventions for Wall Street. With the money he made, he invested in his first complete testing and invention development laboratory in nearby New Jersey. Among his inventions was the first phonograph or record player. The first commercially practical incandescent electric light bulb. In 1884, he introduced the world's first commercially practical system of centrally generating and distributing electric light, heat, and power -- the power plant.

In 1890, Edison developed essentially a movie camera that would lead to the first silent motion pictures. Among his other major inventions were the dictaphone, an early voice recorder, and the mimeograph (copying machine). He introduced the film,"The Great Train Robbery," as his first attempt to turn silent movies into "talking pictures." He kept working until obtaining his last patent at age 83. He died a year later.

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